Chippenham Station 180
By the Friends of Chippenham Station
By the Friends of Chippenham Station
A guide by the Friends of Chippenham Station, also available as a pdf here.
On 4th June 1838 the first section of the GWR line opened between Paddington and Maidenhead and was eventually extended to Swindon. About two years later, in 1840, the GWR line from Bath to Bristol was opened, and the following year Chippenham station opened.
Chippenham Station was opened on 31st May 1841 when the line from London was extended from Hay Lane (between Swindon and Wootton Bassett). On arrival of the first train at Chippenham the GWR Chairman (Charles Russell, MP for Reading), several directors, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and officers of the company were entertained by the Mayor of Chippenham and leading citizens.
In 1835 a 27-year-old engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was given the task of laying the first stretch of ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ between London and Bristol. He was known to have lodged in Chippenham, where the The Brunel pub is today, whilst the work was taking place and had an office at the station. This building was used as a base for Brunel during the construction of the railway through Chippenham. It is now Grade II listed with a Heritage Blue Plaque. Find details of Chippenham’s fourteen Blue Plaques, arranged by Chippenham Civic Society, here.
For GWR’s first monumental stretch of railway line, Brunel was on the hunt for the flattest route, level all the way, that would be the fastest route between London and the west. Later to be nicknamed ‘Brunel’s Billiard Table’, the route was due to follow a straight line (virtually) from Paddington right through the centre of Swindon.
In Chippenham in 1841, a nine arch viaduct was built to carry Brunel’s Great Western Railway over the town. Even after this famous viaduct had been built, the roads were still just mud. Animals walked to and from the market whilst above was this fantastic new structure with steam trains going overhead.
Initially, trains terminated at Chippenham Station. But on the completion of Box tunnel a month after the station opened , trains ran from London Paddington through to Bristol achieving the core aim of the GWR to link Bristol with London. Seven trains a day ran from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads.
At almost 2.9 kilometres long Box tunnel was the longest railway tunnel in the world at the time. Up to 4000 workers (navvies) were employed and it took five years to build. Each week a ton of gunpowder was used and a ton of candles too as this was the only lighting available to the men.
GWR chose to use broad gauge track which could use trains that were larger and more powerful. However this meant that goods travelling from the GWR line to or from other standard gauge tracks would have to be transferred meaning more work and time lost. Eventually, in 1892 it was converted to standard gauge. Below we have included images of a few examples of broad gauge engines.
The image below shows the last Broad Gauge leaving London Paddington at 10.15am on 20 May 1892, passing through Chippenham before terminating in Penzance.
Today there are posts at the entrance to the station made from pieces of broad gauge railway track, as shown in the photograph below left. The photograph to the right from the 1890s shows an early standard gauge engine, GWR 2218, at Chippenham Station.
Over the years the railway continued to grow, linking up Trowbridge, Westbury, Salisbury and Weymouth. The GWR system maps below show the development, reduction and future plans for the south west’s rail network.
The railway system was only just past its peak by 1947 with a few poorly used branch lines closing in the 1930s. In the 1950s closures gathered pace as private cars became increasingly available. Fewer passengers used the railways because the system could not provide the door-to-door service.
By the 1980s rail freight by the wagon load, parcels, letters, newspapers etc were all better served by road transport because the railway could only transport goods efficiently between large collection/distribution centres. If goods trains had to be stopped on route for individual wagons to be sorted for different destinations then any time advantage over road transport was lost.
View the system maps above as a pdf here
The Beeching Report of 1963 recommended the closure of a significant part of the railway system in order to stem the very large financial losses. Governments chose, generally, to implement the recommendations. Sadly, as well as the poorly used branch lines, some valuable through routes were lost which has made today’s system less resilient than it could have been. The French protected closed routes in case of re-use but here the track was quickly taken up, the land disposed of and then built on.
The last map above does show some proposed station re-openings but, of necessity, new stations will not be in the communities they serve. Devizes Parkway will be a few miles away along the A342.
At Chippenham Station the buildings were rebuilt 1857-60 to provide increased facilities for the growing number of passengers, the work being carried out by Rowland Brotherhood of Chippenham. This then accommodated a booking hall, waiting rooms, station master’s office, porter’s rooms and gents toilets. (No mention of toilets for the ladies!)
The first photograph below c 1898 shows the station with a single roof that covered both platforms. A Down train enters the station, with a crowd waiting to board. The Weymouth bay, with timber platform, is on the left. In 1905 the single roof was replaced by the two canopies that we see today, as shown in the second photograph dated 1906.
There was a coal depot located on the north side which opened in 1840 and today a few buildings remain most notably the Grade II listed wooden building which includes a weighbridge.
As soon as GWR finished laying the railway line from London to Bristol, coal merchants occupied sites close to the railway station. One of the first was Harding and Son who opened a depot for ‘Coal, Coke , Salt and Hay’. In 1840 Frederick Mortimore was taken into partnership. Two grey horses, Polly & Punch, were listed in the original partnership agreement.
The image below left shows a horse and dray leaving Mortimore’s coal yard c 1910. The gate post was one of a pair strengthened by pieces of broad gauge rail. The date of the timber building (now known as Mortimore’s Weighbridge Office) is uncertain but it was probably built in the 1840s and is now listed Grade II.
Frederick’s son Peter took over the business in 1943, retiring in 1980, when the business was taken over by Bristol- based Silvey Group. Shortly after, the site was acquired for a car park.
The coal office was in Union Road in buildings which are now used by EMJAY Engineering and Inspire Fitness.
Also available to view as a pdf here
Goods traffic continued to increase with separate sidings for goods such as fish and parcels, plus cattle, cheese and processed meats also being transported. The Nestlé condensed milk factory, which opened in 1873, generated a good deal of traffic with milk being brought in and condensed milk travelling out.
According to the British Transport Commission (BTC) official handbook of 1956, Chippenham had several sidings with the following names – Admiralty, South Western Gas Board, Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company Ltd, as well as Ministry of Supply Lacock sidings and War Department sidings at Thingley Junction.
The diagrams shown here show the growth and eventual reduction of the track layout at Chippenham Station.
The date of this detailed plan below is about 1929 and adds much interesting detail about the use of buildings and various areas around the station. There are two coal yards on the north side, though it seems that the weighbridge is called up as a store. The adjacent ‘grey’ water tower is not noted separately. The water is pumped from Foghamshire, presumably out of Hardenhuish Brook, and used a steam pump until 1938 when it was replaced with an electric one. The pump house had a full-time attendant who lived just over the road.
The branch line to Calne was opened on 29th October 1863 and was largely funded by the Harris family who had a bacon factory at Calne. The first train to use this line carried 100 pigs as well as other goods. The following week passengers also used this route. There were two halts on the route, Stanley Bridge and Black Dog Halt.
Black Dog Halt was a private siding constructed for the use of Lord Lansdowne of Bowood House and opened 3 November 1863 but after Calne Railway was taken over by GWR in 1892 it became available for public use. It was closed and demolished in 1965. The platform at Black Dog and station sign are still there. The station sign was originally attached to the small building on the platform (demolished in 1967) but the scene is recreated in model form on public display at Chippenham Museum. The station master’s house also remains at the site.
On 3 April 1905 Stanley Bridge Halt opened for use by the public with the introduction of steam cars onto the branch. They had a vertical boiler which was located within the carriage itself and could be driven from either end but by 1932 they had been replaced by more conventional steam trains which ran until 28th May 1963.
Like Black Dog, Stanley Bridge Halt was also demolished in 1965 with no sign of it remaining. Although the Calne branch line no longer has trains it is now part of the Sustrans Cycle Network, route 403 giving us the chance to still enjoy the countryside between Chippenham and Calne. As you travel along it you can still see the occasional reminder of the railway.
When the Great War broke out, the Government, by an order in Council, assumed supreme control of all the railways in the United Kingdom. It was the first “industrial war” and GWR had a key role. GWR’s Swindon works made munitions and the railway linked the coal mines in South Wales to the ports and cities in the south east. The railway also played a huge part in the transportation of troops and supplies to the ports to be taken across the channel.
On Friday 5th November 1915, at Chippenham Station, the 4:34 from Bristol arrived bringing the first of the soldiers injured on the front line to be treated at Chippenham Town Hall, which had been converted to become an auxiliary hospital. The soldiers were greeted at Chippenham by men of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, helped off the train and transported to the hospital using cars provided by volunteers and well wishers.
To mark the hundredth anniversary the event was re-enacted with actors playing the part of the men and women of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and of wounded soldiers. Learn more about Chippenham’s Red Cross hospital with new book Unity & Loyalty: The Story of Chippenham’s Red Cross Hospital’ (£19.95) available in the museum shop.
During the Second World War the goods yard was tremendously busy because apart from the needs of the town there were nearby ammunition stores, RAF camps and a Royal Naval depot to service. In addition to the hardware sent to and from these units there would have been food supplies of fruit, vegetables, eggs, fish etc some of which would have been produced locally to Chippenham.
A huge amount of ordnance and other materials were stored or manufactured in the underground quarries around Corsham, supported by sidings at Thingley Junction, Lacock and Beanacre. During the week ending 19th June 1944 1,100 wagon loads of ammunition left Thingley Junction!
Many servicemen would have passed through Chippenham on their way to Lyneham or to the RAF Radio Schools at Yatesbury and Compton Bassett in addition to the technical training establishment at Bowerhill. Hundreds of children were evacuated from London and would have passed through Chippenham on route to Wales and the West country including Chippenham.
Another effect of the war was the employment of women to replace the men who had gone to serve in the forces. This covered a variety of occupations such as porter, ticket collector, carriage oiler and welfare worker. GWR also employed women in the Civil Engineering Department.
Over the past 180 years many distinctive locomotives have hauled the trains that have served on the Great Western Main Line. To commence this part of the exhibition, no better summary of those that have served Chippenham in the 20th and 21st Centuries is provided by this view of the historic line-up of locomotives and multiple units at the open day held at Old Oak Common depot near Paddington on 2nd September 2017.
From left to right:
GWR 6023 King Edward II
7903 Foremarke Hall steam locos
D1015 ‘Western Champion’ Warship
Class 50 diesel 50035 Ark Royal
Intercity 125 High Speed Train (HST) 43002 ‘Sir Kenneth Grange’
Class 180 ‘Adelante’ 180102
Class 800 Intercity Express Train (IET) 80003
Designed by Sir Kenneth Grange, the first regular 125 service started in October 1976. It had a world record breaking run on 10th April 1979 when the 09.20 from Paddington ran the 94 mile to Chippenham in 50 minutes and 32 seconds. This has since been exceeded.
The last HST passed through Chippenham on 18th May 2019, photographed below, and the trains are now in service in Scotland and local routes in Cardiff and Cornwall.
The HSTs have been replaced, due to a combination of age and the need to be more energy efficient. The new trains known as Intercity Express Trains (IETs) are capable of reaching 140 mph but they are limited to 125mph and powered by electricity for the majority of their journey.
With the introduction of the Intercity 125 trains in 1976 the first platform at Chippenham station wasn’t long enough to accommodate the entire length of the new trains. Because all of the doors usually opened at the same time it was unsafe to leave passengers standing by an open door with a large drop to the ground. To solve this, the track was slewed across to the island platform where today all trains arrive at and depart from, as shown in the photograph to the right below from the 1970s.
With the demolition of the old, open metal footbridge a new one was constructed incorporating two lifts to serve the south side and the platform. Unfortunately there was not enough funding at the time to provide a lift for the north side causing inconvenience for those with mobility problems, pushchairs or bicycles.
The ticket hall has been reworked at least twice, in 1989 and more recently in 2017 for which it received an award from Chippenham Civic Society.
There are plans to improve the layout and access to the south side of the station which should be commencing in the near future. Meanwhile work has already started on the provision of a third lift for the north side as well as improving access and safety onto Union Road
Also available as a pdf here
Friends of Chippenham Station (FoCS), formed in August 2019, is a welcoming community rail group of volunteers with differing interests in Chippenham Station. The station is a gateway to the town as well as a hub for sustainable transport. Join us to promote and improve! Members receive newsletters with station news and details of our current projects, read our latest issue here.
All are welcome, email firstname.lastname@example.org call 07468149788 or contact us via our Facebook page.
Exhibition credits: Gail Delahaye, David Long and John Scragg